Monday, August 3, 2009

Baby For Sale

Every blogging Mama wonders if the information or photos she is sharing will somehow be misused. And most are careful about exactly what they're sharing.

It isn't difficult to imagine, then, Jenni Brennan's horror when she discovered that her 7-month-old son's photo was being used in a Craigslist adoption scam. She received an email from someone who wanted her to know that a photo of her son was being circulated by a Craigslist user, claiming to represent an international adoption agency.

Brennan did some investigation of her own, sending a query to the email address offered in the Craigslist add. Minutes later, a photo of her baby boy arrived in her inbox, along with a claim that he was currently living in an orphanage in Cameroon. For $300, the email promised, she could start the adoption process. As she scrolled her arrow over the photo, she saw the address of her family blog, making it clear that this is where the scammer found and copied her boy's photo.

Brennan then took the necessary steps to alert authorities and reset the privacy settings on her blog. Presumably, this one scammer will be caught and prosecuted. But the implications of this loom pretty large, and not just for Mama bloggers, but for any Mama who shares photos of her family anywhere online, including social networking sites.

In a world that is increasingly lived and experienced online, it's hard to imagine not using electronic communication to share our thoughts and photos. Since the beginning of time, people have always chronicled their experiences. And the Internet is unquestionably the format of choice for the 21st century.

Regarding predators, the world online is no different than the world offline. Actually, that's not altogether true. The world online is different. It is newer. It is less regulated. It offers unprecedented anonymity to people looking to exploit and prey upon others. So, at the risk of sounding like a Luddite (a charge that's been leveled against me many times before), how do we negotiate this rather lawless frontier while keeping our kids safe?

It's a question that's been asked before. But Brennan's experience requires that we ask it again. Most people I know think nothing of putting photos or video of their kids on their Facebook pages. But when you stop to consider the relatively tenuous privacy settings available on social networking sites, and the large numbers of people with whom we connect online--many of whom we haven't known for 10 or 20 years--the implications are frightening.

Information has never been as available or ubiquitous. And private information has never been so, well, public. I'm not sure what the solution is, other than the old-fashioned vigilance of a mother. But even this will only take us so far. Nothing stops others from photographing our children at birthday parties or other gatherings and sharing those photos on their social networking pages or blogs, often viewed by hundreds of people we don't know. We can only control our own privacy settings.

In many ways, Brennan was lucky, if only because she was alerted to the exploitation of her son's image. But scams like this must be fairly common. And there is simply no way to know if our kids' images are being misused. Brennan's story has a relatively happy ending. But how many other babies are there out there "for sale"? And what can we do about it?

CNN has video on this story here.


Ruth said...

And of course now Google is going to send people to your blog when they are looking to buy a baby.

Stefania said...

Makes me wonder how Zoe's world will be like in a couple (aybe more?) of years when she ventures into the tech world on her own... because that day will come!